Tag Archives: history

FGC #620 The Incredible Crash Dummies

Learning!Let’s look at the history of The Incredible Crash Dummies, and how they are enormously relevant today.

Cars are amazing. Much like the common copier, a car is a normal part of daily life for many people, but something that would be impossible science fiction a couple centuries back. An automobile is a device that an individual personally owns, and allows said individual to turn a trip that would previously take weeks into a handful of hours. Want to transport groceries from the market? Go on a road trip? Steal a couch from your neighbor? A car makes it all possible!

Cars are also rolling murder machines.

Automobiles are terrifying. They are gigantic hunks of plastic and metal that we routinely hurl through our neighborhoods at speeds that could turn a human being into bloody chunks. Statistically, automobiles are one of the leading causes of unintended death and injury in the United States, with 37,595 motor vehicle deaths in 2019. And, while the US has experienced less motor vehicle death since 1999, there has been an alarming trend of that number ticking back up since 2009. Did we lose some driving skill points with the Obama administration? Are people returning to more reckless driving after watching Gerard Butler’s Gamer? Can we blame “self-driving” cars that have demonstrated a Christine-esque bloodlust? The world may never know. What is important is that cars are helpful and an incredibly likely way for you or a loved one to die/be seriously injured.

But maybe it won’t be so bad if you wear a seatbelt. I learned that from some dummies.

This is gonna hurtThe National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is a US Federal Agency that is ultimately responsible for vehicle safety standards. Like many American institutions, it is three lobbyists in a trench coat claiming they are working for the public good (and they’re totally old enough to buy beer, too, mister). The NHTSA was founded back when America had a three company monopoly on the very concept of cars, and has often been responsible for legislation that punished companies both foreign and domestic for attempting to gain a foothold that might make Henry Ford cry. Look up some details on the Citroën SM sometime if you’d like to see how the safest car ever™ can apparently be torpedoed by headlights. But, even if their motives are suspect in many situations, people at the NHTSA are firmly in the business of safety, so we have those proud men and women to thank for less cars immediately immolating their passengers. Oh! And seatbelts! The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was practically founded to get seatbelts around your tummy.

Legislation made seatbelts mandatory on all cars produced after 1966. Then Reagan (naturally) dropped ‘em in a fit of deregulation. But they came back shortly thereafter, as the Supreme Court sided with insurance companies that wanted seatbelts in all cars (for altruistic purposes, I’m sure). New York then became the first state to require seatbelts to actually be worn in 1985. From there, other states quickly followed suit, and now New Hampshire is the only lawless hovel in the USA where seatbelts are optional. But as important as laws are, they are only as good as their enforcers. A seatbelt law is great for pulling someone over for the slimmest of reasons, but there were also many cops that, having grown up in a seatbelt-less environment, thought the law literally wasn’t worth enforcing. Seatbelts were and are a greater good for society and vehicle passengers… but they were kinda uncomfortable, and nobody likes being told what to do. It’s impossible to say if it’s bad or not.

Enter the crash test dummies.

COMMENCE LEARNINGIn 1986, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began running public service announcements featuring crash test dummies. Where did they come from? Well, in 1869, Mary Ward was killed by a steam-powered car. 60 years later, someone decided to look into that, so Wayne State University of Detroit started seeing dead people as test cadavers in controlled car crashes. Unfortunately, measuring what the heck was going on was practically impossible with the tools available in 1930, so things were rough. But it did work in some fashion, as much of what we know about car design safety and bodies being ejected through windshields comes from this era. Look it up! It’s in The Journal of Trauma! Which is a real thing! There were also animal test subjects for a time, too, because humans are the trashiest animals of all. But at some point in there, people stopped strapping corpses and bears (!) into cars, and the crash test dummy became standard. The dummy was apparently first used in 1949, and technology on assessing exactly how damaged a dummy could be by a crash gradually progressed as the decades passed. And, as the crash test dummy became an iconic part of car crashes, someone had the bright idea to stick those dummies out in front of a camera. Vince and Larry (voiced by Garfield!) were born, and their slapstick hijinks lasted as long as a normal commercial, and they taught everyone “you could learn a lot from a dummy”.

And, while it is hard to measure the success of the Crash Test Dummies campaign, they were apparently effective. The dummies were ubiquitous in the old days of limited television channels/entertainment options. It seems certain that they aired these PSAs in conjunction with family-oriented programing, so if mom, dad, grandma, and Jimmy Jr. were sitting down to watch Head of the Class or Designing Women, the Crash Test Dummies would be a part of the experience. And they were entertaining! If you heard Vince and Larry talking about mundane-but-inevitably-fatal tasks like crossing the street or driving down to the store, you kept your butt in your seat, and watched the carnage unfold. At the time when the official campaign was retired in 1999, seatbelt usage had risen from 21% to 67%. Was this because people had learned a lot from these dummies? Or was it because children loved the toyline?

Because who could say no to this weirdo?

Colors are real
(Bomb Man and Tron Bonne provided for scale)

The Incredible Crash Test Dummies was an action figure line that combined the two things boys like most: vehicles and wanton destruction. Every Crash Test Dummy vehicle was built to be driven, destroyed, and then immediately rebuilt. And these were not Lego-esque construction toys, they were cars with crash-apart windows, crumple zones, and other fun features designed to break (and instantly unbreak). Everything scaled very nicely with other toy lines (if you want to see a GI Joe live through a generally harrowing experience, go nuts), and the actual figures had neat features, too (Vince and Larry can really go to pieces at the drop of a hat). There were even “little buddy” style figures, like the cat, dog, and crash test child that parents demanded be banned. So there’s a collector’s market, too! Hooray! They were never on the same tier as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Power Rangers, but the Incredible Crash Test Dummies must have had enough of a fanbase to sustain three different seasons of toys.

Oh, and a few videogames. They… existed.

Here we goTechnically, today’s chosen game is The Incredible Crash Test Dummies for the Super Nintendo. This version was ported to the Sega Genesis, Amiga, and other systems that did not have the wherewithal to host Chrono Trigger. There was also a Nintendo Entertainment System version, and that more or less played like a primitive sports title/minigame collection, and it was ported to the portables of the time. What ties these two versions together is that they were all absolutely terrible games. The NESalikes at least consistently reminded you that you were playing with crash test dummies, and practically every event involved some kind of slapstick carnage. The SNESalikes, however, were simply 16-bit mascot platformers (from the people that brought you B.O.B.), and were practically indistinguishable from the rest of the poorly considered dreck of the time. There is the charm point of the dummies losing their limbs as they lose health, but that doesn’t impact the gameplay nearly as much as you would think. Beyond that, there is a P-Balloon-esque powerup that encourages some limited flight-through-inflation… and that’s about it. This could easily be Swift the Tenrec racing against the nefarious Dr. Walrus, because no one would notice the difference if the Incredible Crash Test Dummies license was missing from The Incredible Crash Test Dummies game.

But there is a plot to the SNES version! And that plot is surprisingly germane to today’s point (we’ll get there eventually).

The Incredible Crash Dummies toy line initially featured Vince and Larry, the same dummies from the public service announcements. However, shortly after the toys were initially produced, parents began protesting the toy line, and networks stopped airing the PSAs. The reason? It was assumed that the PSAs were now serving the dual masters of public health and turning a profit. Every ad that told you to buckle your safety belt was inadvertently also informing children they could go buy The Incredible Crash Test Dummies merch down at K B Toys. This was seen as a bad thing by the public at large, so the toy line was made more distinct from the PSA characters. Vince and Larry kept on informing the public of the dangers of hugging windshields, and colorswaps took over as Slick and Spin. From there, Slick and Spin gained Pro-Tek Suits, as they had to combat their new enemies: the Junkbots! And those Junkbots barely looked like Crash Test Dummies! How convenient! This prompted a Saturday Morning Special/VHS Tape that told the (computer generated) tale of how the Crash Test Dummies must stop the nefarious Junkbots from stealing a really kicky vest or something. This same story/conflict became the plot of the Super Nintendo game, and now you too can battle the Junkbots and all their rad playsets and toys. Nobody likes youAnd never shall a Junkbot interact with Vince and Larry, else the safety of Crash Test Dummies implode. In short, whatever initial plans for The Incredible Crash Test Dummies line ever existed were seriously derailed the minute it seemed like the toys might endanger the successful PSA campaign.

And I am just trying to understand a world where a capitalistic campaign to make money off children is derailed and modified for the sake of public safety. Christ, I cannot even imagine that anymore.

You want Angry Ranting Goggle Bob? Sure, let’s do this. I lived through a number of significant events in recent American history. I remember when we were first supposed to hate Iraq, and I remember when we were asked to do that all over again a few years later with a similarly named president. I remember when 9/11 happened, and we were told to “never forget” the deaths of 2,996 people. I remember friggin’ freedom fries. And why do I mention any of these tragedies? Because they became focused, national campaigns demanding compliance. There is not a single person on Earth that ever heard of a law renaming a condiment due to political pressure, but, somehow, for six months, all the local restaurants employed servers that asked if you wanted “Catalina dressing” instead of “French”. Forget the crash test dummies, I have seen ridiculously successful advertising campaigns that benefitted only the US Government my entire life, and the public at large doesn’t even recognize such as propaganda. Or, put another way, next time someone shouts “America is Number One!” go ahead and ask them to name their sources. And, no, “freedom” is not an answer.

But this is not to say the United States of America is terrible! It is simply an affirmation that when the federal government wants something to be the standard for the country, they don’t need to make a law. All they need to do is pump the ubiquitous media with interview after interview about how something is our “enemy” or some ambiguous-but-vital goal is “impossible if we don’t all work together”. We all need to go to the mall right now, or the terrorists win.

Jumpin' AroundYet, now that there is a public health emergency that is likely to cause us to confirm how many people over a million you need to see dead before you start using a plural, the government cannot get its messaging straight. Killing Middle Eastern people was the only way we were ever going to ever be happy again, but getting a vaccine? Put that in the maybe column. Wear a mask? No, that might offend some customers that think this Applebee’s staff is somehow dirty. Actually close some goddamned stores because the risk of a localized outbreak will have a greater impact on society than Cletus buying his 256th Funko Pop? Never! Our government has never had a problem taking a bold, unwavering stance on the subject of massive, coordinated death, but when it comes to public health, everybody is shrugging and claiming personal choice is important. Nobody was talking about “personal choice” when the local donut shop was being vandalized every week after 9/11, Joe!

And this pisses me off after the last two years: Where are the Crash Test Dummies for COVID? I understand that Lorenzo Music might not be available for dubbing, but can we get a few decent voice actors to voice the… I don’t know… Mask Buddies? Some kind of ad that runs between Hulu reruns that promotes public health in the slightest bit? And not some “we’re all in this together” commercial to get you to go to Starbucks? The original Incredible Crash Test Dummies were a successful PSA and toy line! And videogame! That was awful! But still! You can do this! You can save lives and make a couple of bucks! I know you can do it, America! You have literally done it before!

Listen to this dummy. You could learn a lot from the past.

FGC #620 The Incredible Crash Dummies

  • Battle all our playsets and toys!System: There was a full system breakdown during the article, so I will just reiterate that we’re focused on the Super Nintendo version today. Will I look at other ports? Absolutely not.
  • Number of players: This really should be two players, as Crash Test Dummies come in pairs. But no dice. Sorry.
  • Level Up: Your main offensive ability is jumping on your opponents, ala Super Mario Bros. But! You can also throw a limited-ammo spanner of some kind as a projectile. And it gets better as you defeat more bosses! Or… it is supposed to… or… something… as it mostly just gets “stronger” by flying in loop-de-loops or other bizarre patterns. Like a lot in this game, it is a choice.
  • Favorite Boss: It is hard to say how much this was influenced by the already toyetic movie, but it seems like the bosses were exclusively chosen to sell the vehicles offered by the toyline. And I’m okay with that! I have been fighting the Technodrome for years! The final boss is the best, as his morphing truck adapts the whole “build whatever” aspect of the Junkbots canon. Oh, but all the bosses are absolutely terrible to fight, because of horrendous hit detection, so you won’t ever see the final boss anyway.
  • Bonus Time: Every boss is immediately followed by a Turbo Tunnel-esque bonus stage wherein you are forced to ram your dummy into a wall with as much speed as possible. For this being the “bonus” of playing an Incredible Crash Test Dummies videogame, you would expect they would maybe put a little effort into parts flying everywhere, or possibly our favorite dummy saying something cute as he is ejected. Nope! Just dumb explosion graphics. Lame.
  • Away we go!Stage End: Every level ends with a spinning “Next Zone” sign, and your dummy rolling into a ball to eject off to parts unknown. That seems weirdly familiar for a 16-bit platformer….
  • Goggle Bob Fact: So I made reference to a local donut shop being vandalized during the article. This is seriously in reference to my college days. Immediately after 9/11, the local donut shop was run by a Pakistani dude who actually did have his 24/7 coffee/donut shop vandalized, like, all the time. This led to the situation wherein my friends and I, completely unaware of this, showed up one night at 3 AM for coffee and donuts, because we were, ya know, bored college students. The owner had a bat at the ready when we arrived, because he assumed we were there to rob and/or vandalize the place (admittedly, we did have multiple tall people with a post-Matrix inclination toward trench coats). It was a confusingly tense situation! Mostly because half our party was high as hell, and had a really hard time understanding what was happening! After we explained that we mostly just had the munchies, the guy calmed down, and we all had coffee and donuts and talked about how much it sucks that so many people were so reactively racist all of a sudden. And I want to say that, barring the premiere of the Justice League cartoon/Gamecube (we were nerds), we came back there and hung out with the guy every weekend that semester. After a few months, hostilities seemed to die down, he stopped personally working the night shift, and we went back to dealing with whoever was making minimum wage for corralling geeks on the graveyard shift. But the point is: don’t let anyone tell you the time after 9/11 was a time of “national unity”. It was only a time of national unity for people that didn’t have to protect their businesses and homes with baseball bats.
  • Did you know? Yes, actual bears were used as crash test dummies at one point in history. This is inhumane and marginally insane (do you know anyone built like a bear? … I mean… a real bear). But it did mean that, for some short epoch, bear was driving. And how can that be?
  • Would I play again: No. This is… No. B.O.B. might get a play first, and that’s horrible.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pokémon Legends: Arceus! Completely random that yet another Pokémon game appears on this blog! Maybe a Castlevania will be next! Anyway, please look forward to it!

This is someone's fetish

WW #14 Everyday Today’s Menu for Emiya Family

Due to the subject matter today, some items may be NSFW. In fact, let this serve as an outright trigger warning for sexual material, rape, rape via magical insects, workplace sexual coercion, and just all sorts of stuff that is traditionally not discussed on this blog. This is confirming that today’s article is rated M for Mature, even if the game itself is not. Also: general spoilers for various TYPE-MOON franchises. Also also, this article is weirdly long! Guess there is a lot to say on this subject…

Let us beginI.

Let’s talk about feminism, Joss Whedon, and at least one cooking videogame.

I suppose we should start with what has been on my mind lately: As a point of fact, I enjoy strong female protagonists. Nine times out of ten, I prefer a female protagonist to a male protagonist. If I am in the mood for noir, I like Veronice Mars. If I want to see some cheesy action, I’ll take Xena: Warrior Princess. I vastly prefer K-On or Azumanga Daioh to any male-centric anime comedy I could name. And when we are talking about ensemble casts, I do often gravitate toward the women (who are usually relegated firmly to “supporting cast”). And, in some randomly introspective moments, I have wondered why that seems to be the case. If I am being generous, I ascribe to the simple theory that I have been watching men’s media since I was a child, so I am tired of hearing about Optimus Prime, and would like to move on to Arcee for a change. I have also never been a particularly masculine man, so it is possible I more readily enjoy characters with arcs that involve less punching and more introspection (Spike has a shootout to solve his problems, Faye gets to reckon with a VHS tape). There are all sorts of reasons that I, a cis white male, would more readily enjoy a woman’s story.

It also might be because…

FGC #562 Q*Bert

No colorLet’s look at the evolution of gaming/Q*Bert over the years.

In 1982, gaming was just taking its first, tentative steps towards Gaming as we know it. Pac-Man and Pong had blazed the trail with their joystick/wheely thing controls, but now we were seeing new and innovative ways to play. Kangaroo, for instance, was a game that was very similar to the likes of Donkey Kong, but added an all-important offensive action to its heroine’s repertoire. Kangaroo could punch out monkeys and apples alike, and one could argue this simple act was the start of “videogame violence” for years to come (sorry, dead monkeys, you gotta start somewhere). And speaking of offensive options, Dig Dug first started digging in ’82, and he had the ability to “pump up” his opponents until they popped. This had the dual purpose of inspiring a generation of bizarre fetishes and featuring a hero that always had the ability to turn the tables on his opponents. Unlike Pac-Man or Mario that had to rely on sporadically distributed powerups, Taizo the Digger was hunted and hunter all in one. This would become the norm for practically all of gaming to come.

But if one game presciently granted a glimpse of gaming of the future, it was Pitfall. Nearly four decades ago, Pitfall Harry explored a large world of tricks, traps, and treasure. Harry had much to do in his (certainly not Mayan) adventure, and, while his moveset was limited, it was contextually sensitive to all sorts of challenges. Harry didn’t simply jump over opponents, he leapt to swing across vines, or hopped over the heads of gators. Pitfall was a revelation for everything its protagonist (and by extension, the player) could do, even if this was still the era of extremely blocky dudes puttering around monochrome backgrounds.

Lookin' GoodAnd 1982 also saw the release of Q*Bert. Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, “punch”, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops.

Ten years later, in 1992, the face of gaming had irrevocably changed. The arcade gave way to the domination of the console, and now Sega and Nintendo were battling it out. But there was the Personal Computer, too! Wolfenstein 3D had just been released, and the whole of the FPS genre was just starting to congeal into Doom (to be released the next year). For some, the “3-D” nature of first person shooters promised to be what “the future of gaming” was always expected to be: fully immersive fighting (through the legions of Hell/nazis, apparently).

But away from the monitor and back at the television, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was pushing the boundaries of the genre that had become known as platforming. Sonic could run, jump, and dash; but he did it at speeds that could not have even been imagined ten years prior. And this latest Sonic allowed for two player simultaneous play! Just like in those competitive fighting games that had been making the scene! And Mortal Kombat was the most prominent “new fighter” of ’92. Now there was a radical shift in gaming! Kangaroo might have punched out a monkey, but, for better or worse, she never tore the head off of an opponent. And look at all those buttons! “Punch” is a thing of the past: Sub-Zero had a variety of punches, kicks, and fireballs (well, snowballs) at his disposal. You didn’t just need an instruction manual for your average fighting game, you needed a strategy guide (thanks, Nintendo Power!).

Good bless QBertBut while we’re considering strategy, let us also consider Super Mario Kart. Mario had cameoed in a sports title here or there over the years (he got really good at Golf, apparently), but he mostly just starred in his own adventures that involved running and jumping. Super Mario Kart was a great success as a fun racing game, but it also showcased how a videogame mascot could shift all their normal “verbs”, but still be unmistakably that familiar mascot. Mushrooms can make you super tall, or they can give you a speed boost. Turtle shells can become projectiles divorced from their turtles. And anyone that has ever played any Mario Kart knows the difference between a Starman that allows you to mow down goombas and one that allows you to speed to the finish line. Mario Kart showed that even the most rigidly defined mascot could be anything, and paved the way for the Sonic Racing or unprecedented crossovers of today.

And then there was Q*Bert for Gameboy, and Q*Bert 3 for Super Nintendo, both released in 1992. Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, six punch buttons, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops. Sometimes there are a variety of new colors and backgrounds, though. You know, at least on the system that has color.

Let’s hop forward seven years. By the time 1999 rolled around, the “mascot wars” of the previous console generation had concluded, and newcomer Sony was riding high with the Playstation and the serious, cinematic Final Fantasy franchise. This was the year we were finally going to see the sequel to Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy: Whatever, and it pushed the boundaries for what was expected of the JRPG genre. Have you ever heard of Triple Triad? Guardian Forces? Dog Missiles? If you haven’t, don’t worry about it, it was all only around for one game, but it did establish that you could have complicated battle systems that were only relevant for one title. Fight, magic, item wasn’t the only fish in the sea, anymore, let’s get ready to get some gambits up in here!

Go QBert!This was also a time when gaming was getting more serious… but “serious” as more of a teenager’s definition. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater allowed a “real human” avatar to perform intricate skateboarding tricks in a universe that apparently had unlimited and instant healthcare. Silent Hill allowed a player to explore the depths of the human psyche in a world that was going to be complete in a few years with the introduction of a certain pyramid headed fellow that really knew how to swing around half a pair of scissors. Or maybe you just wanted to be the Driver, and cruise around realistic (enough) cities? In a way, these games were just as big on the fantasy as Mario (no, you cannot drive a car into a building in reality and continue to have a good time), but they were a lot more “real” than anything Pitfall Harry ever did.

And if you wanted some fantasy, don’t worry, you still had the likes of Ape Escape or Donkey Kong 64 to hold you over. DK64 saw the collectathon at its most… collecty, and showcased all the different ways Kongs can run, jump, and shoot on their way to an ultimate goal of wringing out 12,000,000 (monotonous) hours of gameplay. And Ape Escape was no simple monkey game, it was a sneak and capture event closer to Metal Gear than Donkey Kong. Even visually “childish” games in 1999 weren’t so simple.

And then there was Q*Bert for Playstation. Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, “punch”, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops. This time there was an adventure mode, but that was just an excuse to stick cinema scenes on either side of a world. Everything else was just Q*Bert hops.

BERT!The following five years allowed for a number of innovations in gaming. In 2004 we saw Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which was the first Grand Theft Auto to feature extensive customization to its grand, open world. It also had planes, bazookas, and the opportunity for your C.J. to cosplay as The Notorious B.I.G. for the entire adventure. It is arguable that this Grand Theft Auto went too far into the whacky territory after its sequels eventually tried to rein everything back in with sad Russians in GTA4 and sad dads in GTA5, but the Saints Row franchise carried that whacky football straight to the end zone. Gaming had started goofy, become serious, and then migrated back to goofy all over again.

And speaking of marginally goofy, this was the year we saw Fable, which touted a rich morality system and a story that was different every time you played it. Did that actually happen? Well, not really, but it did seemingly start the trend of games that bet their whole asses on save baby/eat baby morality. It was no longer enough to run, jump, and punch; now you had to determine whether or not you were doing all those things while simultaneously becoming Mecha Hitler. Or Mecha Mother Theresa? You’ve got choices!

But on the simpler side of things, there was Katamari Damacy. This straightforward little game featured a protagonist that could only roll around a ball, but that ball could grow from the size of a paperclip to roughly the girth of a galaxy. And, more importantly than the gameplay, it was released for a whole $20, kickstarting the (now standard) belief that not every videogame had to be a AAA, 40 hour feature. Before internet connections fully graduated from 56K, Katamari Damacy showed us a glimpse of the future of downloadable titles.

Eat it!And speaking of downloadable, this year also saw an official Flash (RIP) version of Q*Bert. In a game that would be ported to “real” Windows a year later, Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, “punch”, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops. At least this Q*venture was free.

Now we fast-forward a decade to 2014. What innovations did this year hold for gaming? Well, we wound up skipping the exact year for a lot of big’uns from this epoch, so we’re left with staring straight at Dark Souls 2. Did you ever hear about Dark Souls? It’s the Dark Souls of Bloodborne games. Love it or hate it, Dark Souls impacted gaming in more ways than we will ever admit, arguably revitalizing the general gameplay of the rogue-like and encouraging increasing your own personal gaming skills while marginally leveling up your chosen hero. In a similar manner, this was the year we saw Bayonetta 2, a shining example of the likewise “hardcore” stylish action genre. Gaming could be slow and methodical or fast and elegant, but, in both cases, it was a little more complicated than guiding a puck through a maze.

And if you still wanted the mascots of yore, don’t worry, they were represented, too. If you wanted to see everybody fight everybody, Super Smash Bros 4 WiiU/3DS was released in 2014. Smash Bros was always a shining example of videogame protagonists leaving their usual genre and sailing into something completely different (Star Fox left his ship!), but Smash 4 would eventually grow and mutate to be a veritable yearbook of every character that had ever mattered in gaming (sorry, Geno, you don’t matter). And if you wanted something new from “cartoony” characters, this was also the year that Shovel Knight proved Kickstarting retro platformers was wholly viable, and could have amazing, enduring results. Come to think of it, Shovel Knight was partially inspired by Dark Souls, too…

CHOOSE YOUR FIGHTERBut there was one game released that year that was not inspired by Dark Souls. Q*Bert Rebooted, seemingly rebooted to promote an Adam Sandler vehicle, was a game where Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, shovel, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops. He also hopped to nearly every platform available, so this one is still downloadable on modern consoles.

And Q*Bert returned for the most recent time in 2019 for iOS. Do we need to review the gaming breakthroughs of such a recent year? Fire Emblem: Three Houses and its perfect blend of chess and dating simulation? Super Mario Maker 2 and its ability to grant the player full creative control over familiar gameplay? Untitled Goose Game and its goose? Whatever the hell happens in Sekiro? (I gather it is a photography simulator.) 2019 was an amazing year for gaming where we not only had all this, but also Q*Bert. And what did Q*Bert do? He moved from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changed blocks colors. He baited a snake into a pit. Q*Bert only knows hops.

He was Q*Bert. He is Q*Bert. The face of gaming may irrevocably change, but Q*Bert is Q*Bert forever.

@!#?

FGC #562 Q*Bert

  • Go lil buddySystem: I’m pretty sure the lil’ Bert appeared on nearly every console system, give or take a few outliers. Playstation 2? Sega Genesis? And I’m pretty sure he wasn’t on Atari Lynx, either. Other than that, there’s probably some Q*Bert in some form on your preferred console.
  • Number of players: One Q*Bert, but two people can take turns if they are so inclined.
  • Don’t make a sound: Q*Bert’s claim to fame has always been the bizarre recordings that approximate the sound an orange monster man might make when brained with a purple marble. Unfortunately, playing Q*Bert in the year 2021 just reminds me that I never want to hear from a belligerent orange creature ever again.
  • Hey, what about Q*Bert’s Qubes: The only Q*Bert to truly mix up traditional Q*Bert gameplay was… not all that different. It basically just added the idea of “rotating” cubes according to the direction Q*Bert hops (as opposed to one simple, all-purpose tap), and added a handful of new enemies (there may have been a crab). Other than that, the way it “separated” the blocks made the game a lot more difficult to visually parse, and there’s probably a reason this Q*title is generally forgotten and ignored.
  • Did you know? Q*Bert for Playstation started with a cinema scene based in Q*Bert’s blocky little world. Weird thing? His weirdass universe looks a lot like modern Minecraft. Did Steve colonize Q*World? Is that the secret origin of the franchise?
  • Would I play again: Q*Bert is great for a whole five minutes before you remember it’s just goddamned Q*Bert. I will probably waste those five minutes again in the future.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Wallachia Reign of Dracula! Or did ROB actually choose Bloodstained: Classic Mode? Actually, it’s both! We’re going to have a double header next! Please look forward to it!

GO FOR IT!

FGC #481 Mega Man ZX Advent

Have a mega timeI’m working on a theory here, and it’s that, despite the fact that Mega Man 9 is one of my favorite games and possibly one of the best Mega Man games ever, it also completely destroyed the Mega Man franchise.

And it all roots back to the history and evolution of Mega Man.

In 1987, there was Mega Man. The premiere of the Blue Bomber saw a robot that walks, jumps, and shoots. When he defeats a Robot Master, he gains that robot’s weapon, and can use it a limited number of times as an offensive option. This playstyle continued through the “Nintendo Years”, and saw six NES games and five Gameboy games. There were many pretenders to the Mega throne, but, by and large, Mega Man changed very little on the NES. A slide here, a mega buster there, but it all still went back to the same gameplay that was established in ’87.

In 1993, we were introduced to Mega Man X. X was, figuratively and literally, the newest model of Mega Man, and came with more than a few upgrades. He could dash. He could cling to walls. He felt more mobile than his stiff ancestor. And, on a very important but oft-ignored note, X could charge his robot master (now “Maverick”) weapons, and possessed an even greater ability mimic his opponents. Simple Mega Man would have never gained the invisibility of Sting Chameleon (Invisible Man?) from a fight, but X had the option to go incognito and fire off triple shots. Finally, “Mega Man” had an avenue to enjoy the more complicated Robot Masters that had been appearing since Wood Man first rained wicked leaves down on the battlefield.

Generations!1997’s Mega Man Legends was, unfortunately, an evolutionary dead-end for the franchise, but Mega Man X4 (released the same year) allowed a complete Zero to costar with X (he was technically playable in X3, but he was more prototype than man). The Mega Man franchise always put a particular emphasis on distance and how easily ol’ Mega could be defeated by simply bumping into an enemy, so it seemed only natural when the franchise went all in on a character that had more of an emphasis on close-range combat. And it was a change for Zero as much as anyone else! Zero used to be able to slash opponents from a distance with an armbuster and flying cut, but now he was limited to a sword’s length for combat. And it worked! Many preferred playing as the up close and personal Zero in X4 and future X titles, so it was little surprise when it was time for…

Mega Man Zero hit the scene in 2002. Once again, we had two evolutionary paths, with Mega Man Battle Network’s action/JRPG hybrid gameplay first emerging to great acclaim in 2001, and then Mega Man Zero curating the 2-D action a year later. MMZ could potentially be seen as a step back for the franchise, as singular Zero was technically more limited than X in his modular attacks, but, as the MMZ franchise evolved, Zero gained an arsenal that would put any other Mega Man to shame. And right from the beginning, it was clear that the point was never to give Zero another seventeen variations on Metal Blades, but create a smaller, tighter gameplay environment for an audience that had literally learned to walk alongside the little metal boy. Mega Man Zero’s Zero did not feel like the same upgrade we saw between Mega Man and Mega Man X, but it did offer a new, more intricate experience for the veteran Mega fan.

Seems familiar2006, four years (and ten games!) later, we received another two “sequel” franchises. Mega Man Star Force was our upgrade for Mega Man Battle Network, refining the basic gameplay and adding very important plot points about dinosaurs being killed by a lack of friendship. And, on the other side of the aisle, we got Mega Man ZX, the continuation of the Mega Man Zero franchise. In this world, the wars of Mega Man Zero eventually ended, and the heroes of that time were skinned alive and could now be worn like suits. Don’t worry! They’re still sentient “biometals”, so at least X, Zero, and all their frenemies can experience the joy/horror of being a fashion accessory for centuries! And the protagonist of Mega Man ZX watches their own personal Obi Wan die, which unlocks the ability to mega-merge the biometals of X of Z(ero). Thus, the titular Mega Man ZX is born, and they’ve got all the powers of Mega Man X and Zero. Finally! The lovers are united!

And, while the whole conceit of Mega Man ZX could have just been an excuse to give Zero a decent buster, the game really does feel like the conclusion of years of Mega Man and Zero games. Zero’s greatest strength was always its focused gameplay… but this left the hero feeling rather limited compared to his ancestors. Meanwhile, Mega Man had a thousand options for combat (or at least nine), but many of his adventures seemed overstuffed and… Sorry, the English language doesn’t yet have a phrase that translates to “too top spin-y”. But Mega Man ZX struck an excellent balance: the dedicated gameplay of the Zero franchise was here, but the options available to X were also fully integrated into every level. Mega Man ZX could “be”, essentially, Zero, or transform into a more mobile air-dasher. Or a water witch. Fireball bro. Cyber ninja. The hero’s got options! And each different form wasn’t just a matter of a slightly modified buster, they all offered unique mobility options, too. In a way, this is what was promised back in the ancient days of Rockman and his ability to mimic his opponents after a battle. Or maybe that’s just what was promised by Ruby Spears Mega Man…. Still! Whatever works!

And it must have worked well for somebody, because Mega Man ZX gained a sequel, Mega Man ZX Advent, the following year. And it advanced the Mega Man formula by being completely bonkers.

Kiss from a roseMega Man ZX Advent eschews the typical mega-sequel plan by ejecting its previous protagonist right out of the gate. What’s more, this isn’t even a situation wherein the “ZX biometal” is immediately passed to the next generation or some other similar narrative trick to explain sprite reuse. No, the hero/heroine of Mega Man ZX Advent initially acquires the A Biometal, granting them the ability to wholly copy any given biometal or pseudoroid. What does this mean? It means you can play as the bosses! No more “got a weapon” or “can play as ZX-H” or whatever, you can just straight up emulate any given boss in the game! And it doesn’t matter if the boss “is too big for most areas” or “doesn’t have legs”, you can just turn into that fish monster on land if you really want to! Worst comes to worst, you just lose a life, so don’t worry about it. You’ll figure out that being a gigantic alligator monster all the time isn’t the best choice eventually.

And, while it demolishes the tightness of Zero to make some sections of ZX Advent unerringly silly (“Quick! Turn into the twin cat-bears!”), what’s truly remarkable here is how much the player is trusted with these unwieldy toys. Mega Man Powered Up had been released the previous year, and it did its level best to make sure all of the playable Robot Masters were balanced and similar so Guts Man could (technically) conquer any challenge originally designed for Mega Man. There is no such equilibrium here: it’s a known fact that half the playable “party” cannot complete the game from beginning to end. Hell, a fraction of that group can barely even jump! But that doesn’t matter, because you can switch between forms at any time, and who needs to worry about whether Queenbee the Hymenopteroid can fit through a particular hallway? Just switch! The X button is right there! The ring menu means pausing the action isn’t too big of a deal, and you’ll be switching over to the appropriate pseudoroid with a few button presses.

And being able to cycle through a complete set of “Robot Masters” really felt like what Mega Man was always meant to be. Mega Man ZX Advent was the culmination of a full twenty years of Mega Man games.

And it turns out it really was the zenith of the franchise. There was nowhere to go but back.

The secret bonus of Mega Man ZX was the ability to play as Omega, the super-powered version of Zero that was supposed to be his original, unstoppable body (long story). The secret bonus of Mega Man ZX Advent was the ability to control Modal a (case sensitive), which…

Pew pew

Looks a little familiar.

Model a was clearly a deliberate move, as the next Mega Man title to come down the pike was Mega Man 9, a retro title released in 2008. After years of Mega Man upgrading to match the graphics of the day, this was the first Mega Man title to fully embrace the NES aesthetic, and return to (faux) 8-bits. This was the first Mega Man to not try to upgrade old titles to modern sensibilities (like Mega Man X Maverick Hunter or Mega Man Powered Up) but take gameplay back to older standards while offering new and interesting experiences. But, retro or not, Mega Man 9 was an excellent game, and, while it may not have featured a “modern” Mega Man, it was the type of experience that could only be produced by people with decades of experience in the genre.

Which is great, because Mega Man 9 was apparently the end of any experimentation in the franchise.

CHOMPSince the release of Mega Man 9, we’ve seen Mega Man 10 (another retro title) and Mega Man 11 (something a little more modern). Aside from that? Nothing. No Mega Man X, Mega Man ZX, or Mega Man Battle Network. No Mega Man: Ultra Plus or whatever could have been next for the franchise. Mega Man 9’s success seemed to cement the concept that gamers just want classic, unchanged Mega Man, and that’s what Capcom is going to keep cranking out. We’ve seen about seventeen different rereleases of Mega Man 3, but nary a peep about Mega Man Legends 3.

(And, yes, we could blame this all on Keiji Inafune, the godfather of Mega Man, leaving Capcom, but that ignores the fact that we have Mega Man 11, and it’s probable there is a reason Inafuking isn’t at Capcom anymore…)

Was Mega Man 9 a good game? Yes. Hell, it was amazing. By comparison, is Mega Man ZX Advent a bad game? Well, it’s not bad, but it is very sloppy compared to Mega Man 9 (or even Mega Man Zero 4). But it’s a lot of fun, and its experimental side is arguably what Mega Man fans have wanted all along. But since even more fans simply wanted good ol’ Mega Man, Mega Man 9 was the end of the franchise’s 20 years of experimentation. Mega Man 12 may be allowed to have a gimmick or two, but it better be the OG Mega Man, or it ain’t getting greenlit.

Mega Man 9 is my favorite game that murdered its own franchise’s creativity.

And Mega Man ZX Advent is my favorite game where you can play as Bifrost the Crocoroid.

FGC #481 Mega Man ZX Advent

  • System: Nintendo DS initially, and now available for PS4/Switch via the Mega Man Zero/ZX Collection. This game was actually chosen by Random ROB a while ago, but I decided to hold off for the modern collection. And it’s good!
  • Rock out!So you spent an entire article bitching how Capcom ignores the experimental Mega Man titles, and they just released one of the experimental Mega Man titles? Yes. Shut-up.
  • Number of players: Grey or Ashe, but only one at a time.
  • Favorite Pseudoroid: Vulturon the Condoroid is a heavy metal vulture that summons robot zombies and flies through the air strumming his murderous electric guitar. Just… just how are you supposed to compete with that? Block Man can’t touch that with a ten foot block.
  • Second Runner-Up: But all of the pseudoroids are amazing in this game. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to just phone in a number of Robot Masters that are all basic variations on a theme (like the Guardian Quartet), but we’ve got giant bees dragging around enormous hives and twin dog monsters and Metal Sonic and… Well, the list goes on for a while.
  • Say something mean: The empty rooms that can be uncovered but won’t activate until you speak to the right random Ranger to initiate a sidequest are the absolute worst. The fact that there are like 50 “golden skulltula”-style monsters to hunt down, and the quest giver is tucked away in one of the final levels is somehow even beyond the absolute worst. Some kind of… Mega Worst.
  • An end: Complete with the secret ending, the finale of Mega Man ZX Advent sets up a sequel featuring evil biometals, a turncoat leader, and an uncertain future that we know will culminate with Tron Bonne running around a sunken world. But what happens next? Who knows! Like Mega Man Legends, this branch of the Mega Man franchise never made it to a full trilogy, so here we sit waiting for more.
  • BUZZ!Did you know? Chronoforce the Xiphosuroid, the horseshoe crab-looking pseudoroid that can control time, is named for the Xiphosura order, which includes the Tachypleus tridentatus aka kabutogani. And that’s where we get the name for the Pokémon, kabuto.
  • Would I play again: Did I mention I like playing as the giant crocodile monster? Because I very much enjoy playing as the giant crocodile monster.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Gradius V for the Playstation 2! Keep your options open, Vic! Please look forward to it!